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Space research can answer important questions

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's speech at the conference "Space for the Artctic '12" at Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby 13 March 2012.

Check against delivery.

What can space technology do for us?

It is a pleasure to attend this interesting and important conference at DTU. Allow me to begin by looking back more than 50 years ago. On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy delivered a special message to the US Congress on Urgent National Needs.

In this speech, Kennedy stated that the United States should set a goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth by the end of the decade.

Kennedy's goal was accomplished with the Apollo 11 mission eight years later in 1969, when Neil Armstrong took that historic first step. I think it's safe to say that the birth of space travel, apart from the political value, focused greatly on the technology and carrying out of missions.

And the question was: What can we do for space technology? Today, it is naturally still a must that the technology works and the mission is carried out.

But developments in society and increasing need for information leads us to ask a new question: What can space technology do for us? And even more so on this occasion – what can space technology do for the Arctic? This conference will help answer that question.

Challenges and opportunities in the Arctic

The Arctic covers more than a sixth of the Earth's total land mass. Unlike the Antarctic, which sees similar temperatures, the Arctic region is populated and includes more than 30 different native groups.

The Arctic has unique wildlife that is largely connected to the sea, including mammals such as polar bears, whales and walruses. The Artic is one of the world's largest wilderness areas. The environmental value is immeasurable. The natural riches are immense. So too are the challenges it is facing.

Global warming is happening quicker in the Arctic than any other place on Earth. The average Arctic temperature in the first decade of this century surpassed all previous measurements.

The extent of the sea-ice is decidedly smaller. And the melting of Greenland's inland ice sheet and other Arctic ice caps is contributing to rises in sea level.

Climate change has widespread consequences for the global, regional and local climate and environmental conditions. Climate change and the consequential easier access to the Arctic region has also led to increased maritime and resource activities.

That has especially increased the need for maritime safety and environmental protection. Climate change and technological advancement continue to open up opportunities in the Arctic.

Also in the form of increased access to exploiting natural resources such as oil, gas and minerals. It is estimated that the Arctic holds up to 30 per cent of the world's undiscovered gas fields and around 10 per cent of its oil.

It also provides opportunities in the form of new shipping routes that can reduce costs and carbon emissions for freighters. Ships sailing between East Asia and Western Europe could reduce their fuels costs and distance travelled by 40 per cent by sailing via Siberia instead of the Suez Canal.

Arctic border states are also in the process of defining their continental shelves. So it's not surprising that global attention on the Arctic has increased in recent years. It is increased by the climate effects, the economic potential in the region and the geopolitical implications of changes to the Arctic.

The opportunities of space research

Climate change in the Arctic is an early warning sign of what will happen to the rest of the world – such as sea level rise. Therefore reliable information about climate change in the Arctic is important.

This includes better climate change prognoses, which means better and more intensive data series. Because in the Arctic, the use of remote sensing via satellites is often the only way to gather continuous data in a cost-effective manner.

Space systems provide information that is often otherwise unattainable. Space systems are also very relevant in accommodating a growing need for navigation and communication in the Arctic.

The European Space Agency, ESA, has experienced an increased interest in the Arctic in recent years from member states, and it has seen a growing need for information about the Arctic region.

This has naturally lead to ESA's increasing focus on how it can best solve the growing demand for better data for climate research and climate adaptation. Also the EU has signficant interests in the Arctic.

EU has launched the "EU Arctic Footprint and Policy Assessment Project", which will evaluate how much the EU contributes to the effect on the Arctic environment and society. And it will examine the effect of EU policies to limit undesirable effects.

By launching CryoSat 2 and the first Galileo satellites, ESA has already increased the opportunities available. A further development is possible in the form of the GMES programme (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security).

Denmark's positions

Denmark supports and will continue to support the EU and ESA's efforts to supply the international scientific society with sufficient data to help understand climate change. As well as obtaining knowledge about necessary climate adaptation such as changing ice conditions, permafrost thaw, communication and navigation.

Climate research and the Arctic is an important strategic element in Danish research. Danish researchers are therefore very active players in relation to the Arctic region. Denmark considers it important that the EU focuses on and prioritises GMES and Galileo before initiating new larger ventures.

Denmark will also be aware of the importance of the Arctic and climate change when funding is being allocated at the ESA Council at ministerial level later this year.

In general, Denmark acknowledges that space activity is a vital instrument for the broader society – and to a lesser extent an independent research and technology discipline.

Horizon 2020 and space research

I cannot leave today without mentioning Horizon 2020. Horizon 2020 identifies the grand challenges we face within climate, demographics, sustainability and energy.

The programme proposal states that data infrastructures for the observation and monitoring of the Earth must be based on advances within ICT and space technologies.

And it will also be possible to seek funding for research programmes within the utilisation of space data and observation and innovation system in the environment field.

Horizon 2020 will be the world's largest research programme with a proposed budget of 80 billion euro. And it's during the Danish EU Presidency that critical negotiations on Horizon 2020 will take place and coinciding with the final bricks falling into place as Cyprus takes over the presidency.

Space travel can answer important questions

The Arctic has obtained a more central role globally in recent years. International attention on the region's importance and value is increasing.

And we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of attention. And we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of Artic changes and the potential that space research and other new technologies can offer.

Satellite observations provide unique opportunities for gathering data about climate change in the Arctic. And it's badly needed. Because climate change in the Arctic functions as an early warning signal for the rest of us.

And to take the right actions, decision makers, businesses and citizens must be provided with reliable and up-to-date information on how our climate is changing.

So I believe we can rightly ask: What can space technology do for us? What can space technology do for the Arctic? And then we will hopefully get some qualified answers.

I wish you all a productive conference. Thank you to DTU-Space and the Commision for organising this important conference. And thank you for your attention.

last modified Dec 21, 2021